Saturday, December 28, 2013

Rebirth (Flash! Friday entry #2.3)




The planet had been almost entirely vacated. Only those too poor, too ill, or too crazy to leave remained. Christa supposed she fell into the last category. She wasn’t like the cultists who’d elected to stay because they thought God had returned; Christa stayed because she was curious. She stayed so she could see the heart of a black hole.


Christa slept during the day, wandering deserted streets at night and taking inventory of the stars. Fewer and fewer burned through the black veil each night, devoured by an even deeper, more permanent blackness.

It happened during one of her midnight walks. Christa cartwheeled into the sky, consumed by a blackness so cold and complete it was like being unborn. She collapsed, falling inward and inward and inward, until she was one with the heart and there was nowhere left to fall but out.

Christa exploded through the darkness.

She became the light.

A new heart for a new world.




Thursday, December 12, 2013

Answered Prayers (Flash! Friday Flashiversary entry)

Sometimes, Nahla thought, the dreams and wishes of childhood became the nightmare realities of adulthood.

When she was eight, Nahla would have given anything for a dragon baby. Lying awake at night, she prayed to the goddess Echindna to send her a fire-breathing beast with eyes like emeralds and wings of gold. She would be the envy of the village, a mother to a god.

As Nahla grew, those dreams were replaced by more practical desires—a husband, a home, and children of the human variety. When she ceased to bleed and her belly began to swell, Nahla lay awake at night, praying now to the goddesses Eileithyia for a strong and healthy son. She would be the envy of the village, a mother to a prince. The whimsical yearnings of youth were all but forgotten. She’d forsaken her childhood prayers, but they’d not forsaken her.

Nahla pushed and wailed, and as her child’s head emerged from her womb, the midwife, Sita, shrieked and fled the room, abandoning Nahla to deliver her baby alone. She staggered to her feet and, reaching between her legs, pulled the screeching infant from her body. A hand flew into her mouth, blood and sweat mingled, choking back a scream.

In her arms, Nahla held the dragon baby she’d so desperately wanted as a child. But instead of beautiful onyx scales and golden wings, his body was covered in sickly diamond plaques. His fingers were misshapen, ineffective claws. Instead of emeralds, his eyes were soft, swollen things that wept angry red tears as he cried. No ears. No nose. Only hollow black holes where both should be. He was an abomination.

Outside, the villagers were gathering. Unintelligible murmurs seeped through the windows like vapor and shadows born of torchlight writhed on the floor like mad spirits. Nahla’s husband entered the birthing chamber. His eyes fell upon the malformed infant wailing in his wife’s arms.

He cursed her. Turning slowly, he left to confirm his people’s worst fears.

Nahla wept for answered prayers.

She would be the shame of the village. A mother to a monster.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Hypothesis (Race The Date #5 entry)



“You know, in some cultures they cut off your hand for stealing.” Daniel paced up and down the rows of incubators and centrifuges. During the day, as many as thirty investigators might be working in the lab at any given time, but now it was deserted, and Daniel’s voice echoed off white boards and epoxy resin countertops, making it impossible to tell exactly where he was.

Richard’s irresistible cobalt eyes ricocheted inside their bony sockets like a pair of tandem pinballs. They were the only things he could move. His wrists and ankles were securely fastened to his chair with zip ties, and his mouth was stuffed with filter paper and secured with several strips of rainbow lab tape.

“But you didn’t steal with your hands. Did you, Richard?” Daniel stepped from behind a tower of deionized water. He wore a face shield, safety goggles and insulated gloves. In one hand he carried a coffee-can sized container labeled LN2, in the other a glass pipette.

“No,” Daniel said, “You seduced my lab assistant with greedy eyes that lapped up my research proposals when her back was turned.” He set the container on the counter; the lower half had sprouted a lawn of frost.

“I don’t think losing your hand would do much to stop you from stealing again.” Daniel removed the lid; frigid fog boiled over the edges. He placed the pipette into the container and drew up 6 ml of clear, bubbling fluid. Richard’s eyes bulged like rubber stops under high pressure.

“But I suspect that a few drops of liquid nitrogen on those icy blue peepers might just do the trick.” Daniel peeled back Richard’s eyelids and positioned the pipette above the first writhing globe.

“As we are both men of science, let’s test that hypothesis. Shall we?”

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Smart-Attack (Finish That Thought #22 entry)




There was only one thing left to do.

Shelly unscrewed the lid and swallowed two mouthfuls of cherry wine. She’d chosen that particular bottle, hoping it would taste like kool-aid. It didn’t. Her entire face puckered and Shelly set the bottle on the counter so her hands would be free to flap at her face as if she were a southern belle with a sudden case of the vapours. The moment passed, and Shelly couldn’t help but wonder why anybody would ingest alcohol voluntarily, let alone to excess.

She eyed the wine.  She’d consumed less than a quarter of the bottle. She frowned. Shelly had been instructed to consume at least half a bottle that evening, working her way up to two bottles a night over the course of a week. It seemed an impossible task. Shelly gagged down an additional three mouthfuls. It was like any medicine, choke it down and get it over with.

The alcohol was a supernova in her belly, propelling waves of heat through miles of soft tissue. Shelly took the remaining wine, wove her way into the living room and sat down beside a pile of books in front of the fire. She picked up a medical pamphlet and giggled. It wasn’t funny, but the neurotoxin was making her giddy. Shelly read the pamphlet for probably the hundredth time that day.

Malignant Cerebral Hypertrophy, commonly known as Hyperintellectualism,  is a rare pathologic state of knowledge acquisition in which affected individuals compulsively amass knowledge such that their brain assumes the phenotype of a tumor. The pseudotumor preferentially utilizes body energy stores resulting in symptoms typically associated with malignancy ie: fatigue, weight loss, and night sweats.

First line treatment consists of behavioral modification, including withdrawal of stimulating activities (ie: cessation of reading) and substituting less intense undertakings. Video games and movies are both safe,  effective alternatives. In more advanced cases, medical intervention may be necessary, requiring administration of alcohol, marijuana or other medications previously considered “recreational.” Rarely, surgery may be required.

If left untreated, MCH is universally fatal.

Shelly let the pamphlet flutter to the floor. Live dumb or die smart. What kind of choice was that? She swallowed another mouthful of cherry wine. It didn’t taste as awful as it had half an hour ago. She grabbed a book from the pile. The Collected Works of William Shakespeare.

“Sorry, Bill. But it’s either you or me. You understand.” Shelly tossed the book into the fire. She wept as pages curled and all the bard’s magnificent wordsmithery was reduced to ash. He was followed by Chaucer. Sagan. Poe. And Darwin. Shelly fed books into the fire until the wine bottle and bookshelves were empty.

Just after ten, as she watched the last traces of Grey’s Anatomy transforming into black carbon, Shelly’s phone vibrated. A text message from her mother read: How’d it go at the doctor’s this afternoon?

Shelly typed back: Remember when you said I was too smart for my own good?

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Watcher (Flash! Friday #52 entry)


Caroline had watched them for a hundred years. She’d continue watching a thousand years more, pursuing vengeance, until such a time that she was finally able to do to them as they’d done to her. 

Crouched in a corner, Caroline cursed the demons, calling each one by name. Four students raised artificial human faces; soulless eyes turned from texts to gaze instead upon the specter-child. 

Plucked from her bed like a piece of ripe fruit, she’d been peeled and parted, her tender flesh consumed by an insatiable ill on a moonless, winter night. 

Her foul rage nourished them still. 

So they let her watch.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Revenge is Not A Side Dish (Finish That Thought #21 entry)





“Is cranberry sauce supposed to taste like this?”

It was the last thing Becca said before she and the rest of her family were snoring face down in mounds of mashed potatoes and lakes of congealing gravy. As the roof was withdrawn from Becca’s single-story home, the lights flickered and died. Darkness was quickly replaced by a gently pulsing, bruised-plum spotlight, and a bespectacled zebra descended through the unroofed building into the dining room. Lylae flicked her striped ears, listening for anyone elsewhere in the house who might still be awake.

“What do you see?” The voice of Lylae’s commander whispered through the communicator as if the unconscious bipeds might be roused if she spoke with her usual authority.

“Eight bipeds. Five adults and three juveniles. All adequately sedated.”

“Any sign of the ambassador?”

Through her spectacles, Lylae could see bright, fluorescent motes dancing in the air. “I’m reading trace particles matching the ambassador’s genetic profile. The trail appears to be originating from an adjoining chamber.”

“Proceed with your investigation.”

“Yes, Commander Gondii.” Lylae moved quickly, her hooves clattering loudly in the otherwise silent household. As she stepped through the doorway she stepped on something rubbery and slick. She lost her balance and slid into the kitchen, colliding with a center island and toppling a stack of soiled pots and pans. The resulting commotion was enough to elicit an unpleasant feedback signal from her communicator.

“Lylae, is everything all right? Have you been harmed? Has the mission been compromised?”

“Everything is fine.” Lylae said. She looked back toward the doorway. Sprawled on the floor was Becca’s unconscious daughter. The floor was littered with the deviled eggs she’d been sent to collect. “I’ve discovered a fourth juvenile in the adjacent room. Also unconscious.” Lylae untangled herself from the floor and resumed her search. There was a significant increase in the fluorescent signal. Lylae followed the gradient.

“The ambassador’s signature is much stronger in here.” Lylae moved carefully so as not to trip on any of the dishes and risk another embarrassing fall. As she rounded the backside of the island, the gradient transformed into a dense cloud of fluorescence.  “I’ve isolated the source of the signal. I believe the ambassador is being held captive inside this steel cell.”

“Do you think you can handle a rescue, or should I send the extraction team?”

Lylae gripped a cotton rag hanging from the front of the steel door between her teeth and yanked; the silvery door fell open. A gust of hot, moist air pummeled her face, fogging her spectacles and temporarily shielding her from the horror within.

“Forget the extraction team, Commander Gondii,” Lylae said, as she stared at the browned turkey, roasted to perfection. “Send in the assault forces.”  

Monday, November 25, 2013

Renovations (Race the Date #4 entry)




“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Keto asked.

“Not only is it a good idea, it’s my only option; just look at it!”

Keto gazed upward through the rippling currents at the doomed isles. They did prevent her from admiring the lovely Helios as he rode his golden chariot across the sky, but that didn’t justify the destruction of an entire civilization. Besides, Poseidon harbored no secret desire to ogle his brother from afar; his motivation for eradicating the archipelago lay elsewhere.

Keto frowned. “And you don’t think Zeus will be angry that you’ve obliterated an entire civilization just so you can use the rubble to erect a life-sized statue of yourself in the living room?”

“Meh, easy come, easy go. I’ll just say they angered me by failing to conquer Athens or some such rubbish. Besides, in a few years nobody is even going to remember Atlantis existed.” Poseidon stroked his mossy beard and said, “Now, hold my drink and watch this.”

Monday, November 18, 2013

Thanks, Obamacare (Race The Date #3 entry)




Jaime shuddered but did not blink, keeping his eyes on the cut-out tacked to the wall for as long as possible before the blindfold was secured. He memorized the cut-out’s contours, focusing on the critical zone. Some of the players had placed close. Very close. He had to be closer.


Hands gripped his shoulders, forcing him to spin. One...Two...Three times. The floor tipped and Jaime staggered sideways. He took three compensatory steps in the opposite direction. Hands gripped his shoulders again, but this time he was shoved forward, toward the wall, the cut-out, and salvation.


The memorized image was a perfect imprint in his mind; he approached the wall as if he weren't blindfolded at all. Jaime reached out an arm and, without hesitation, plunged the pin into the wall. There was a collective gasp from the other players.


Jaime removed his blindfold, his Cheshire Cat grin melting off his face as he saw that his piece—a pink construction paper heart—was pinned to the cardboard man in the dead center of his forehead, over a foot from its target. Elsewhere, on and around the cut-out, were a pair of lungs, half a dozen kidneys, and a liver.


“Bad luck,” a man said, gripping Jaime once more by the shoulders.


Jaime shot a look over to the other players. A woman, the one whose mother needed a new kidney, was weeping. She’d won.


“No,” Jaime said, “Chrissy needs a new heart.”


“Man, lotsa people need new hearts. Thanks to you, someone's gonna get one.”


“But–”


“No buts,” the man said, producing a firearm. “You knew the rules when you signed up. You win, you get a donor. You lose, you are the donor.”

The man ushered Jaime and eight other healthy men and women toward a door marked SURGERY.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Children of Perdition (Flash! Friday #50 entry)


The children were gone, but the children were not gone.

Mounted on a steed as thin and frail as a child’s stick-figure drawing, he fled across an endless desert landscape. Like his horse, the rider possessed little substance; his gaunt frame was a mosaic of exposed bone and blistered skin, bleached and baked brick-red beneath an unremitting noonday sun.

The mare heaved, expelling a great, sorrowful sigh. He might have stroked her neck, might have offered some consolation or encouragement, but his hands were as they always were—hooked like claws around the damned pipe. His fingers moved over its holes in sharp, involuntary jerks. Hot, hollow breaths were drawn from his lungs and funneled through the slender ivory tube that rested between cracked, bleeding lips.

Terrifying in its innocent cheeriness, the familiar melody swirled in the air, trailing behind him like an invisible cape.

As always, when the piper played, the children followed.

An army of footprints tracked through the sands behind him. Each tiny imprint vanished an instant after it was laid, carried away and forgotten by an indifferent wind. Tirelessly they marched, the evanescent tracks the only trace of a lonely hoard that relentlessly pursued the piper and his enchanting tune.

The mare heaved again, shuddered, and, with an almost silent whinny, collapsed. The piper toppled headfirst into an abrasive dune. Unable to free his hands from the cursed instrument, he flailed in the shifting sands, drowning beneath coarse waves.  

Ghost hands lifted him from the gritty current and set him upright near the dead animal. Unable to speak, he bid the horse farewell with his yellow, unblinking eyes. Her spirit had repaid its cosmic debt, and now he would have to carry out his penance in solitude. The piper trudged forward.

On earth, the children were gone; they were drowned in a river.

But here, the children were not gone; they would follow him forever over an endless ocean of sand.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Midnight Sun (Race the Date #2 entry)


The world was a buffet of adventure from which Zach and Anna supped frequently. As they stood on the edge of the world, watching the sun dip toward the horizon, Anna took inventory of their conquests.

Champagne on the summit of Everest.
Riddles in the shadow of the Sphinx.
A solo marathon along the Great Wall of China.
Vows witnessed by the of Moai of Easter Island.

They had sampled generously, savoring the flavor of every experience their blue planet had to offer until only stale leftovers remained.

Months prior, while on a birthday safari, Anna had confided in one of her fellows travelers her growing boredom. The traveler produced a stone from his satchel and pressed it into Anna’s hand. It thrummed, emitting a shallow, aubergine glow as the man mouthed unearthly wisdom into Anna’s eager ear.

Anna squeezed Zach’s hand as her watch signaled the arrival of the witching hour. She rested the stone on a mossy carpet, bathing it in the golden rays of a midnight sun. The stone erupted into kaleidoscope of sound and light. Galaxies swirled in a cyclone of unfathomable beauty.

The possibilities were infinite.

Hand in hand, Anna and Zach stepped into the vortex; their bodies burst into a spray of ecstatic particles and were carried away by a dazzling current of light.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Wrong Place, Right Time (Race The Date #1 entry)


Cassidy couldn’t tell if her skin was boiling or frozen. Maybe it was both. Probably, it didn’t matter. Whatever that status of her exposed epidermis, it was the first distinction in a lifetime of serial unknowns that Cassidy didn’t care if she had wrong.
She’d been wrong about a lot of things in her life. Wrong about brown crayons tasting like chocolate. Wrong about bottle rockets making her bicycle go faster. Wrong about viral vectors being the cure for cancer. But she never gave up. Every wrong answer was a baited hook luring her toward a state of newfound understanding and undiscovered truths.
Her colleagues, friends and family all said she was crazy, that time travel was impossible, but her work required viable tissue. Ancient tissue. Cassidy was determined to get it. She explored the fields of physics and engineering, seeking to unlock the secrets of time travel. Only then, might her experiments on human physiology and disease bear fruit.
She was prepared to be wrong again—she was, after all, operating far outside her area of expertise—and it never occurred to Cassidy, as she calibrated her untested time displacement chamber, that consideration of the Earth’s location in space on the desired arrival date might be an important factor.
Displaced in time, but not in space, Cassidy drifted in a silent vacuum. Through a watery crimson veil, she could appreciate the jagged outline of a single landmass stamped onto the surface of a young blue globe. Pangea.
Maybe burning, maybe freezing, but definitely out of breath, Cassidy acquiesced to an encroaching darkness as she gazed down on an Earth two hundred million years younger than the one she’d left, proving time travel was possible.
About that, at least, she had been right.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Reflections (Flash! Friday #49 entry)



Suspended in time and spanning the great inky chasm of NeverWas, Lauren stood on the Bridge of Fleeting Moments. Behind her, Lauren’s Past rippled in a silver pool of light. Reflected in its surface were her triumphs, her failures, and the bittersweet memory of lost love. Ahead of her, a golden pool churned; its surface was a featureless glow reflecting the limitless potential of Lauren’s unwritten Future.

Seduced by the nostalgia of bygone days, Lauren longed to return to  familiar times and reclaim her wasted happiness.

She moved toward the silvery echo of yesteryear.

Gold deepened to amber. Amber to copper. Copper to rust.

The bridge shuddered; heavy slabs of stone plummeted into the NeverWas. Lauren cast an uneasy glance across the dissolving bridge to her vanishing future. A single focus still pulsed with golden promise.

She hesitated.

Forward? Back? Or into the abyss?

Lauren closed her eyes and leapt.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Paradise by the Dashboard Light (Flash! Friday #48 entry)



It was date night again. Lester caressed cracked leather and counted hash marks on the dash—one for every romantic evening that had culminated in sweet satisfaction. It was a moonless night, and this stretch of road, though close to campus, was far enough from the influence of artificial light to still allow for stealth. He cruised over the blacktop sans headlights. Black on black on black. 

She wanted it. He knew she did. Lester wanted it, too. 

“Soon, my love.” he said. 

She wasn’t shiny or new. She didn’t have electronic windows or automatic steering. Minerva was a dinosaur, a relic from another time, and she was the love of Lester’s life. Her heavy steel body never dented or buckled when it collided with unsuspecting flesh, and dried blood blended seamlessly with her rusty freckles.  

A hundred yards ahead, paired caution lights strobed on either side of the road. Lester traced the silhouette of a backpacked youth as it stepped into the flashing crosswalk. 

Riding Minerva like a sorcerer atop a rogue comet, Lester plowed into the wide-eyed, open-mouthed co-ed, howling like a jackal as her body—limbs tangled and bent at unnatural angles—bounced off Minerva’s hurtling frame and was crushed beneath two sets of metal-studded snow tires. 

Lester stopped the car. But only for a moment. He didn’t dare linger. As life ebbed from the mangled heap visible in the rear view mirror, Lester carved another crooked scar into the dashboard. 

The engine shuddered and Lester whispered, “I know, Minerva. I love you, too.”

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Dreamcatcher



“What’s this?” Bree asked, plucking a delicate, beaded web from the wall.  

“It’s my dreamcatcher.” Anna said. “It catches bad dreams and lets the good ones through. Then the bad dreams get burned up by the sun.”


Bree puckered her lips, wrinkled her eyebrows and squinched her nose as if she’d smelled something rotten. “That’s stupid. Do you sleep with a night-light, too?”


Anna’s face burned. She kept thinking she’d get used to Bree’s abuse, but every classroom gibe and playground slander was a fresh paper cut on her heart. “Not anymore.”


“Whatever. Mom promised me a new video game if I agreed to spend the night with you. The sooner we sleep, the sooner I can go home and play with my real friends.” Bree turned off the light. 


Laying in the dark, Anna clutched the dreamcatcher. It was heavy, pregnant with a fortnight of horrors. She stroked its fragile strings, their familiar magic unknotting serpents of anxiety that writhed in her gut. One by one, Anna snapped the threads she’d so carefully protected from daylight’s embrace these long past weeks, and a thick, luminescent fog mushroomed from the dreamcatcher, filling the room. Anna dropped the ruined talisman and slipped into the closet; she watched through a slit as a host of liberated abominations—great, eyeless creatures with razored tentacles and bottomless gaping throats—descended upon Bree. Her screams fractured the night.


Anna stayed in the closet until the first golden rays of morning filtered through her bedroom window. Monstrosities’ mouths yawned wide, silently wailing as they evaporated into obsidian mist. She crept from her refuge, stepped over Bree’s tattered remains and lifted a tangle of beaded string from the bloody floor. Anna dropped it into the trash; she wouldn’t need it anymore.


Her nightmare was over.